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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Black Sheep

Augusto Monterroso

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Title: The Black Sheep
Author: Augusto Monterroso
Genre: Fables
Written: 1969 (Eng.: 1971)
Length: 108 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Black Sheep - US
La oveja negra y demás fábulas - US
The Black Sheep - UK
The Black Sheep - Canada
La oveja negra - España
  • and Other Fables
  • Spanish title: La oveja negra y demas fabulas
  • Translated by Walter I. Bradbury, "with the convivial cooperation of the author y sus cuates"
  • Comes with "an onomastic and geographical index"

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Our Assessment:

A- : clever, brief, and occasionally exceptional fables

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       This small volume of extremely short fables -- many only a page or a few paragraphs in length -- is a virtuoso display of writing. These precise little pieces are not traditional fables. Monterroso cuts the form down to its barest essence, revealing the complexity of the underlying morals that are usually foisted on a reader. These are not edifying tales as we are used to, but they are beautiful, clever, and honest little works.
       In one of the most stunning examples, Monterroso manages in three paragraphs -- a mere eight lines (seven here) -- to present a succinct version of the well-known race in "The Tortoise and Achilles", reducing one of Borges' favourite paradoxes to such a simple and yet equally resonant form:

     Finally, according to the cable, last week the Tortoise arrived at the finish line.
     At the press conference he declared modestly that all along he had feared that he was going to lose, since his competitor was right on his heels.
     As it happened, one ten thousand trillionth of a second later, like an arrow and cursing Zeno of Elea, Achilles crossed the line.
       It is the perfect complement to Borges' meditations on the subject, and a perfect fable in its own right.
       Many of the other fables also impress. Of particular note is "Faith and the Mountains", a beautiful story on the power of faith -- and the dangers it poses. Here as elsewhere Monterroso neatly turns expectations and conventional takes on a subject and turns them on their head, daring to suggest, for example, that Faith is not benign and that it can bring with it great and grave consequences.
       Similarly, he offers an entirely new explanation of Ulysses' journeys in "The Cloth of Penelope -- or Who deceives Whom ?" Other stories of note include the marvelous title piece, "The Fly who dreamed he was an Eagle", and "The Monkey who wanted to be a Satirical Writer" -- though, really, the whole slim collection is impressive.
       Clever, amusing, and thoughtful, with nary a wasted word, Monterroso's small pieces are weightier than many a full-sized novel. Neatly presented in this long out of print volume, with woodcuts facing the text to pad the book, The Black Sheep is an excellent collection. Because of the precision of the texts quite a bit gets lost in translation. Nevertheless, even in English it is a marvelous read. Highly recommended. (Seek it out at your local used bookstore, or the library !)

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Reviews: Other books by Augusto Monterroso under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Augusto Monterroso, Guatemalan author, born in 1921 in Honduras, resident of Mexico since 1956. Winner of the Mexican Xavier Villaurrutia Prize in 1996 and the Prince of Asturias Award for Letters 2000. He died 7 February 2003.

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